- Parish House
Sermon for Trinity Sunday – Genesis 1:1-2:4a
The Rev. Dr. Kate Alexander
So Thursday was a good, busy day. I had back-to-back meetings, and each one was very different than the next. It was one of those days that remind you how rich and varied parish ministry is. And given the nature of some of the meetings, it was a good day to be in uniform with a clerical collar. I don’t always wear one during the week, but sometimes it’s helpful and appropriate to suit up. So the day was off and running, with me in uniform.
In between those meetings I had a personal errand to run. Normally, I take the collar off for such things because when you’re going to grocery store, for example, you just want to buy some milk and not have to explain what an Episcopalian is, much less how and why women can be clergy. But on Thursday I forgot, and walked into a new eye doctor’s office with the collar on. I sat down and filled out my new patient paperwork. And then I started to look around the office. I noticed some crosses on the wall. Always kind of a surprise until I remember that this is the south. And then I started to notice clues that suggested a particular kind of Christian message. There were certain bible verses on the wall. Next to those, of course, was an eye chart with the letters that get progressively smaller as you read down. But next to that was an anti-abortion sign in really big letters, readable by all regardless of prescription I guess. Just not what I expect to see in an eye clinic. I started to make assumptions about the kind of Christianity being conveyed, and how our Christian worlds can seem so different. And then I remembered I hadn’t taken off my collar. This could get strange, I thought.
In the exam room the doctor came in, looked at me, and didn’t say hello. He sat down and started making notes. I started to worry that this wasn’t going to go well and that I had been sized up as, well, a different kind of Christian. I contemplated leaving. But the eye exam started and so did our conversation. And, we had a lovely time. The doctor does indeed go to a very different kind of church, one that does not endorse women’s leadership. But that didn’t get in our way. He talked about how much he loved his church but wished it had a columbarium. I talked about how much I love my church and how I admired the faith of the people I know in his church. And we ended up talking about home improvement projects, finding common ground on the virtues of tankless hot water heaters. I don’t know whether he judged me at the beginning. I know I made assumptions and feared being misjudged by him. And I know that through some grace we moved past that and had a lovely time. There was goodness in our meeting that I would not have predicted.
I’m sure that this is far more than you care to know about my Thursday last week. But that small exchange between two Christians both humbled me and gave me hope. Despite whatever might separate us, we managed to arrive at a shared goodness. And honestly, we in the church don’t talk enough about goodness these days. And by goodness, I’m talking about the fruit of the Spirit, along with such things as love, joy, peace, and kindness. Goodness is a fruit of the Spirit, and the letter of Paul to the Galatians reminds us that there is no law against such things.
But there is so much working against the recognition and affirmation of goodness. Sometimes I think the world is simply wired toward the negative. Just think of the constant news cycle of terrible events and entrenched conflict. Think of the polarization in our communities. Think of how violent our personal worlds and the larger world can be. Think of the fear of those different from ourselves. Think, too, of our own emotions and how quickly the negative ones dictate our sense of ourselves and the world around us. When I look around, I think the ancient idea that humanity is in a fallen, sinful state is pretty apt.
But Genesis tells us that goodness came first. The creation of the generations of the heavens and the earth is a litany of goodness. God created light and saw that it was good. God created the land and the seas and saw that they were good. God made plants, and the sun and the moon and the stars, and they were good. God made creatures and blessed them. Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness,” and we were created in the image of God. Genesis says that “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.”
We know how the story unfolds from there – the plot twist in which sin and evil enter the world according to the book. But we’re not meant to forget this beautiful opening litany about the goodness of the world.
And we’re not meant to forget that we are created in the image of God. The sense of the Hebrew word for image is that of a shadow. Human beings are a shadow that God casts in the world. One of the primary functions of shadows is to say something about the reality of what is casting a shadow. Once you have a shadow, then you know that the object that’s casting a shadow is substantial, real. If we are God’s shadow, God is much more real than even we are. And if that divine reality creates goodness, names goodness, and blesses goodness, perhaps we should do the same in this world of shadows.
Today is Trinity Sunday, a day that invites us to contemplate the divine mystery. “At the heart of the Trinity is the belief that God is inherently both communal and loving. One God in three persons whose shared, mutual, and sacrificial love spills out into the world and all its inhabitants. And ultimately, we are called to be church in a similar way. Loving, respecting, and caring for each other in a way that spills out into our neighborhoods and communities in tangible, beneficial, and attractive ways.” (David Lose) The divine life spills out into this creation deemed so beautiful and good at its start. And that same divine life can spill forth from our lives as we repair those places where goodness has been breached. As the modern day revivalist Rev. William Barber puts it, we are repairers of the breach. Acting in the image of God, we are to create goodness, name goodness, and bless goodness. Surely that is part of the great commission from Jesus, who told his followers to go and make disciples of all the nations. Imagine if the church unequivocally embraced the cause of goodness in our world as fundamental to our discipleship.
This past week there were a whole bunch of kids running around this place dressed as spies for vacation bible school. Picture magnifying glasses, decoder rings, trench coats, and fake mustaches. They were seeking clues for what the kingdom of God might be like. Their joy was its own clue for those of us who had the privilege of spying on them. Many of the kids are still unaware of all that divides us. They don’t yet understand false assumptions, judgment, and separation. They were communal and loving, spinning around and then spilling out into the world. A shadow of the Trinity itself. And a reminder of the goodness present from the very beginning in God’s creation.